Statement on the dropped brothel-keeping charges

Statement on the dropped brothel-keeping charges.
We are pleased that the brothel-keeping charges brought as a result of the 2013 sauna raids have been dropped, as this will protect the remaining jobs of sauna-based women still working in Edinburgh. We hope no other sauna-based women will have to go through raids like this again, especially as the police conduct on these raids, which we exposed at the time, was described by the women who went through it as “humiliating” and “violating”
Furthermore, we have unresolved concerns regarding the loss of women’s money and phones. When the saunas were raided, Police Scotland took cash and personal phones from the women they found working there, without providing receipts or a written record of what was taken. We assume that these were handed over to the Crown Office as “evidence” in the failed prosecutions.  Now that charges have been dropped we demand that the women’s property be returned to them immediately. We also believe that Police Scotland’s ability to seize property, including cash, without providing receipts is outrageous, especially when there  was never any suggestion that individual women working in the saunas had broken any law. 
We are asking other women’s organisations to back us in our calls that the women’s money and phones be immediately returned to them. 
The after-effects of the raids also brought concerns. The sauna system is imperfect, and as such we argue instead for the New Zealand model, which would allow small groups of women to work together for safety without needing a manager. However, shutting down established indoor premises – as these raids did – has numerous negative implications for the safety and health of the women who work there. We warned at the time that these raids would harm the safety and health of the women who worked in the saunas, and a year later, Edinburgh City Council’s April 2015 harm reduction report noted that: 
  • Condom use had dropped and infections had increased: “it has become apparent that condom use among sex workers in Lothian is less than the previous year … There has also been a slight increase in rates of sexually transmitted infection in the last year”.

  • Women were accessing health and support services less: “the number of women attending the clinic service has decreased for the first time in 8 years … there is no evidence that the number of women selling sex in Lothian has reduced, but they are not attending for support from NHS Lothian in the same volumes as in previous years”. 

  • Fears that condoms would be used as evidence meant that managers were not keeping condoms in saunas: “since [the raids], many managers of these premises are reluctant to have condoms stored there”, and;

  • Quieter saunas (a drop in “demand”) after the raids meant that women were having to compete more to make money, leading to some offering unprotected services: “compounding this risk is the problem that these venues are quieter, and some reports have indicated that women are consequently competing for work and will practice unprotected intercourse in order to generate a larger income”. 

This bears out the truth of our warnings at the time, and indeed our concerns about criminalisation – including our concerns about ‘end demand’ approaches. These raids were disastrously executed and the subsequent effects have been disastrous: the now-dropped charges do not undo that damage. We hope that policymakers and the police will learn from this mess, and in particular learn the harms that criminalisation brings.